Durham News

Parking fees coming to downtown Durham streets

According to City Transportation Director Mark Ahrendsen, public demand for parking spaces downtown is closing in on the supply.

That means it’s about time for a go-ahead to charge for parking on downtown streets, Ahrendsen told the City Council during a work session on next year’s budget.

With money from on-street parking, and two 20-percent rises in overall parking rates over the next eight years, the city could build a new parking deck inside the Loop by 2018, and improve two existing decks, Ahrendsen said.

“We need to begin the planning for that and the decision-making ... in the short term,” he said.

He got no argument from council members.

“We’ve got to pay for the parking lots, for the spaces – let’s move forward as quickly as possible, and that includes the meters on the street,” said Councilman Eugene Brown.

“Amen,” said Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden.

Revenue from the city’s parking decks and surface lots, and from parking tickets, goes to a dedicated Parking Facilities Fund in the city budget. That fund is used to cover parking costs, but it runs an annual deficit of about $2 million in debt service costs.

To make up the deficit, the city uses its general fund, which is primarily made up of property- and sales-tax revenue. On-street parking fees and the proposed rate increases would let the parking fund cover debt service for the new deck and repairs, getting them done sooner and leaving general-fund money available for other capital priorities.

Raised rates and on-street parking charges were among recommendations from parking studies (nando.com/1bu) on downtown and the Ninth Street area released in 2013. The city raised prices that year for leased spaces downtown – setting off loud complaint from downtown residents who had parked for free for years – but held off on charging to park in the one- and two-hour spaces along the streets.

With growing commerce downtown and new development coming, the city’s parking revenue is going up, Ahrendsen said, but spots are getting hard to find.

The city operates four parking decks in and around the Downtown Loop and several surface lots, totaling about 2,900 spaces.

Two of the city’s downtown decks are over 90 percent capacity, he said. The other two are closer to 50 percent now, but the city is getting frequent inquiries from developers about leased parking that could fill about 1,000 more spaces.

“The bottom line is, we’re getting close to reaching capacity,” Ahrendsen said.

The parking studies recommended charging for about 750 currently free on-street spaces inside and around the Downtown Loop, in the American Tobacco/DPAC district and West Village area.

“That’s a decision you’ll need to make, the extent to which you want to impose paid on-street parking,” Ahrendsen told the council.

The parking studies also recommended imposing fees for on-street parking in the Ninth Street area. In previous discussions, city officials said that would most likely happen when fees are imposed for street parking downtown.

Wise: 919-641-5895

Ninth Street lot “a concern”

After a year of charging $1 per hour to park in the Ninth Street parking lot, public use and city revenue have proven “very low,” Transportation Director Mark Ahrendsen said recently.

Peak use at the lot is about 17 percent, he said, the equivalent of 8 spaces occupied out of 48 available. Fees apply 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“As long as people seem to continue to find free parking elsewhere, whether it’s on the street or in somebody else’s lot, they’re continuing to do that,” Ahrendsen said.

The city formerly leased the lot in exchange for waiving the owner’s lighting costs and property taxes, about $3,000 a year, and allowed public parking at no charge. But after the lot changed hands in 2012, the new owner, CPGPI Regency Erwin LLC, the city’s lease cost went up to $82,500 a year. Parking fees were expected to recover about half that cost.

“Obviously, that’s not happening,” Ahrendsen said.

Long-established merchants on the east side of Ninth Street complained long and loud when the fees were announced and several have continued complaining that their businesses have suffered because of the change – particularly when new merchants on CPGPI property across the street have free parking in a private lot for their customers.

The city and east-side business owners have had talks about those businesses paying what the city had hoped to take in from fees, and giving free parking to their customers, Ahrendsen said.

“We are working on that,” said Vaguely Reminiscent owner Carol Anderson.

“We’ve had a little discussion, but haven’t ironed out the details,” said Donna Frederick, owner of The Playhouse toy store.

Staff writer Jim Wise

Parking agenda

Three parking-related items are on the City Council’s work-session agenda (nando.com/1bt) Thursday:

Contractor charges: A proposal to charge construction contractors in and around downtown $15 per day, seven days a week, for public parking spaces taken up by their vehicles, construction equipment and Dumpsters. The charge is estimated to bring $30,000 a year to the Parking Facilities Fund.

Parking operator: A three-year, $5.5-million, contract with Republic Parking Systems to operate the city parking lots and decks and enforce parking regulations downtown and in the Ninth Street area. The current contract, with Lanier Parking Systems, expires this year. Republic was favored over three other bidders, including Lanier, by reviewers from the city, Downtown Durham Inc., American Tobacco Campus and the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Controlled area: Designating the 800 blocks of West Corporation Street and Northside Circle, and the 800 block of North Street, a Controlled Residential Parking Area, with a two-hour limit for non-residents from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week. The designation was proposed in response to residents’ complaints about their neighborhood’s parking being taken over by patrons of new restaurants and nightspots nearby.